Through the end of November, Presto Sheet Music is offering up to 25% discount on selected Oxford University Press titles, including 15 of Clarke’s finest. Featured items include many of Clarke’s most essential publications for or with viola, and several of her most beautiful (and useful) choral works. To sweeten the deal, the choral pieces qualify for an additional quantity-discount.

Presto’s international fulfillment has remained swift and affordable, even under COVID, so this is a bargain well worth considering.

Apart from this month’s out-of-the-blue Binnorie-boomlet, there’s a sudden Comodo e amabile-crush, which only goes to show how easy it is to say, “Oh! That deserves to be published!”—usually at someone else’s expense, by dint of someone else’s labor—and how hard it is, and how long it takes, to get a new piece going in the concert repertoire.

I’ve already descanted on Binnorie (composed around 1942, discovered 1997, published 2002), now available in a mind-boggling performance from the BBC, and coming up in a pre-Halloween program of thrillers from Boston (links to both events here, and a video of the latter being kitchen-tested, quite literally, here), but the string quartet pieces (composed 1924-26, possibly revised around 1976, published 2004) are suddenly popping up everywhere, too, first in Quatuor Sine Qua Non’s fabulous new CD (details here), and now in online concerts from the Santa Fe Symphony (October 25) and the Boise Philharmonic (November 7), both of which feature Comodo e amabile in fascinating company.

Picking up another recent surprise-development in Clarke programming, there’s a lovely pair of of songs—Shy One and The Cloths of Heaven—transcribed for viola and piano in this installment of the International Music Foundation’s Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, in Chicago, beginning at 25:45.

This evening, San Francisco’s Old First Concerts presents Morpheus and Passacaglia on an Old English Tune alongside pieces by Bridge and Bax that Clarke played regularly in concert, while Omaha’s Countryside Community Church offers a new version of Joanna Goldstein’s widely-acclaimed “Nasty Women” program, featuring Morpheus. Both events have made use of the latest, not-yet-published research, so be prepared for surprises.

Beginning October 30, BBC Radio 3 offers a recital from Northern Ireland Opera’s Festival of Voice 2020, recorded in Belfast, featuring Clarke’s The Seal Man as the centerpiece of an imaginative group of John Masefield settings, flanked by Ireland’s Sea Fever and Keel’s Three Salt Water Ballads.

And finally (for now), the Endler Concert Series, at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, presents Lynn Rudolph and José Dias in Clarke’s Viola Sonata, on November 15.

Leave it never be said that we are not geographically well-distributed. Antarctica hasn’t weighed in yet, but that could always change. Stay tuned.

This season’s de-facto pan-European Clarke festival takes a slight breather before plunging into November and December’s full-tilt Clarkeapalooza, of which more later. Still, autumn hath its charms, and Clarke continues to find herself in interesting company.

[Apart from the first item, which you can enjoy while sheltering at home, any or all of these events may or may not happen as planned, depending on COVID-19, so check availability and local public-health requirements before setting out.]

September 10: Brexit, schmexit—the BBC is still a global operation, and Clarke was one of its earliest ornaments, so we feel no compunction whatsoever in including it as a way-station on her current Grand Tour, especially as she shuttles through under cover of darkness, at 4:04 a.m. British Summer Time (check here for your local equivalent), in the form of a rebroadcast of Elizabeth Watts and Paul Turner‘s performance of A Dream, Eight O’clock, Down by the Salley Gardens, and Greeting, from back in 2008, when Watts and Turner were members of Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme, and not the firmly established figures they are today. The program will be available on demand through October 8.

September 20: Les Vacances de Monsieur Haydn, or “Mr. Haydn’s Vacation”—surely Europe’s most charmingly-named music-festival (tip of the hat to Jacques Tati), and the one with the coolest logo—gives Clarke’s Trio an outing at the Cinéma le Kerlouet, in La Roche-Posay, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. It sounds like a terrific program, also featuring Mr. Haydn’s Opus 76, No. 5, Mr. Mozart’s Sonata, K. 15, and Mr. Lucas Debargue’s Mélodies sur des poèmes de Baudelaire pour mezzo-soprano et piano, with the exciting (and still controversial) Mr. Debargue himself anchoring the proceedings at the piano.

September 22: Sweden’s acclaimed Malmö SymfoniOrkester kicks off its 2020-21 chamber-music series with a program featuring Clarke’s Morpheus and Passacaglia on an Old English Tune, performed by co-principal violist Gunnar Jedvik and pianist Jan Karlsson Korp. The concert also includes Bruch’s Eight Pieces, Op. 83, and Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” trio, with Jedvik, Korp, and clarinetist Anders Eriksson.

October 16: A mere 596 kilometers up the road from Malmö—it’s a big country—mezzo-soprano Emelie Thoor and pianist Olga Tomilina perform Clarke’s The Cloths of Heaven and Down by the Salley Gardens, in a lunchtime concert at the Konserthus recital hall in Västerås. The bill of fare includes songs by Alma Mahler, Amy Beach, and Richard Strauss, and a premiere by Joel Engström, whose rhythmic panache Clarke would have admired (not to mention those smoking glissandi!). Tickets and mouth-watering restaurant-reservations may be had here.

October 20: The tenth-anniversary season of Festival Présences Féminines offers a fascinating program by violist Isabel Villanueva and pianist François Dumont, at the Musée National de la Marine, in Toulon, France. In addition to Clarke’s « très belle sonate pour alto et piano » the program includes works by three living composers: Édith Canat de Chizy’s En bleu et or, Dobrinka Tabakova’s Suite en jazz style, and the world premiere of Golfram Khayam’s Ritornello pour alto seul.

Eighty to one hundred years after their composition, it’s striking how often—and how naturally and comfortably—Clarke’s pieces sit alongside the latest and the freshest, from whatever part of the world. Debargue and Engström are just thirty years old, Tabakova and Khayam are not much older, and Canat de Chizy is « un poulet de l’année » next to Clarke, who just turned 134. Quite a ride. She would have loved it. Stay tuned.

Much of a 2019 recital commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Clarke’s death popped up on YouTube the other day, and it’s just as revelatory as it is improbable. A production of National Taiwan University’s Center for the Arts, the recital presented violist Mei-Chun Chen and pianist Hsin-I Huang in Chen’s transcriptions of three of Clarke’s most powerful and characteristic songs, along with deeply insightful performances of Morpheus and the Sonata. (More about the latter in a forthcoming post.)

Sir Charles Stanford, Clarke’s composition-teacher, steered students away from songs until they had acquired firm command of instrumental writing, lest they rely too heavily on “the crutches of suggestive poetry” and fail to learn that song-writing “demands a power, which is perhaps the hardest of all to acquire, of suggesting large and comprehensive ideas in a confined and economical space.” Something similar can happen on the receiving end: hearing flawless songs in fine performances can be so transporting that we miss the “large and comprehensive ideas” that give them their strength and energy. And this is where Chen’s transcriptions are so revealing.

Stripped of words and presented as “absolute music,” Clarke’s Tiger, Tiger reveals an elegance of form and logic every bit as relentless as the eponymous beast itself, and for that reason it becomes even more terrifying:

[Beginning at 2:07] Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forest of the night: / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry? ¶ In what distant deeps or skies / Burnt the fire of thine eyes? / On what wings dare he aspire? / What the hand dare seize the fire? ¶ And what shoulder and what art, / Could twist the sinews of thy heart? / And when thy heart began to beat, / What dread hand? & what dread feet? ¶ What the hammer? what the chain, / In what furnace was thy brain? / What the anvil? what dread grasp, / Dare its deadly terrors clasp! ¶ When the stars threw down their spears / And water’d heaven with their tears: / Did he smile his work to see? / Did he who made the Lamb make thee? ¶ Tiger Tiger burning bright, / In the forests of the night: / What immortal hand or eye, / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? (William Blake)

By contrast, The Cherry-Blossom Wand, with its feather-light text, can seem like a charming bauble that goes by in a flash. Without the words, however, its underlying sobriety instantly comes to the fore, and it begins to feel like a very large idea indeed:

I will pluck from my tree a cherry-blossom wand, / And carry it in my merciless hand, / So I will drive you, so bewitch your eyes, / With a beautiful thing that can never grow wise. ¶ Light are the petals that fall from the bough, / And lighter the love that I offer you now; / In a spring day shall the tale be told / Of the beautiful things that will never grow old. ¶ The blossoms shall fall in the night wind,/ And I will leave you so, to be kind: / Eternal in beauty, are short-lived flowers, /Eternal in beauty, these exquisite hours. ¶ I will pluck from my tree a cherry-blossom wand, / And carry it in my merciless hand, / So I will drive you, so bewitch your eyes, / With a beautiful thing that shall never grow wise. (Anna Wickham)

But it’s The Donkey—one of Clarke’s most nakedly theatrical songs—that really drives the point home:

When fishes flew and forests walked / And figs grew upon thorn, / Some moment when the moon was blood / Then surely I was born. ¶ With monstrous head and sickening cry / And ears like errant wings, / The devil’s walking parody / On all four-footed things. ¶ The tattered outlaw of the earth, / Of ancient crooked will; / Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, / I keep my secret still. ¶ Fools! For I also had my hour; / One far fierce hour and sweet: / There was a shout about my ears, / And palms before my feet. (G.K. Chesterton)

With the declamatory vocal line transferred to the viola, it is instantly apparent that the “shout” that ushers Jesus into Jerusalem is nothing less than the opening salvo of the Sonata, note for note, at pitch. So much for the claim that Clarke tried to hide her light under a bushel, or the corollary notion that her songs were lesser things, devoid of intellectual content, meant only for the parlor and her circle of friends!